Thanks to tremendous new tax incentives, over the last three years the Southeast has become a hub of film- and especially television-making activity, says Ellen Jacoby of Ellen Jacoby Casting International, which is based in Miami Beach, Fla. Opportunities for local actors are growing significantly in Miami and central Florida, Atlanta, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La., and throughout North Carolina, she says.
At the time of the interview, Jacoby was getting ready to cast the pilot for a new "Charlie's Angels" series and had recently cast a T-Mobile ad directed by Spike Lee that employed 150 local actors. "We have been inundated with big TV commercials," she says. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Series such as "Burn Notice," "Army Wives," "The Walking Dead," "One Tree Hill," "The Gates," "Drop Dead Diva," and "The Vampire Diaries" have been shot either totally or partially in the Southeast, as were the films "Green Lantern," "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn," "Battle: Los Angeles," and "Transformers III."
Generally, the lead roles in major motion pictures and television series continue to go to actors based in L.A. or, to a lesser extent, New York, but "large portions of the casts, especially on TV, are no longer actor-name-driven," says Craig Fincannon of Fincannon & Associates, a major casting operation in the Southeast, with offices in Georgia, North Carolina, and Louisiana. Since its inception in 1979, the company has cast 125 features, more than 200 episodics, 125 movies of the week, six miniseries, and hundreds of commercials.
"Seventy-five percent or more of the shows we handle are cast locally," Fincannon says. "There are economic incentives for producers to hire locally. Producers have an arrangement with SAG that allows actors in the Southeast to be day players within a 500-mile radius. Historically, if an actor worked one day but had to spend two days traveling in each direction, the producer would have to pay the actor three days' salary. Now the actor's travel will be paid by the producer, along with the hotel expenses and a per diem, but the actor will get paid only one day of salary. There's a shift to hire local actors for larger and larger roles." And clearly, if the actor doesn't have to travel at all, the producer saves that much more money.
So what kind of roles are we talking about? According to Fincannon, it's no longer good ol' boy rednecks and Southern belles. The Burt Reynolds genre film, such as "Smokey and the Bandit," is largely passé, he says. "We've become a homogenized society. We'll do some rural or Southern Gothic shows, but also a lot of Jersey mobster pieces." Many projects filmed in the Southeast are set in Europe, Canada, Central America, or other states across the country.
Most of the actors Fincannon sees come to him through local agents representing local talent—though occasionally a local agent will be approached by an L.A.-based manager to represent his or her client in the Southeast. If Fincannon is interested in an actor, the preliminary step is for that actor to tape an audition and post it online. "We don't ask an actor to drive from Atlanta to New Orleans unless everyone has seen the audition—has had a first pass electronically," he says. "We will then bring in two or three final choices for a face-to-face. When we meet with them, that becomes the callback."
Ellen Jacoby, Ellen Jacoby Casting International, Miami Beach, Fla., www.ellenjacobycasting.com
Craig Fincannon, Fincannon & Associates, with offices in Georgia, North Carolina, and Louisiana, www.fincannoncasting.com